The Blog

Glamorization, Mental Health and the Addictive Price to Pay for Art

t's time we stopped romanticising mental illness and addiction, stopped putting the heavily addicted on our cool-lists and their ordeal as our red-topped headlines.

The death of Amy Winehouse brought with it a fresh round of club 27 romanticism, so much so that there appeared to exist a sense of inevitability about it. Amy was seen as joining the shortlist of similar troubled and drug-addled musicians who died at this age.

But Amy's death was not predictable because she was 27; a so-called curse derived from nothing more than causal inferences and Fritz Heider-like attribution. Her mental and physical decline had been clear for some time; her downward spiral into the world of substance abuse, disorder and self-harm, where catastrophic marriages and lock-ins at The Hawley Arms had become an almost Ground Hog day recurrence was just too transparent.

Yet everyone lapped it up. Why? Because there is an infatuation with insanity, rebellion and self-destruction in popular culture. Because the glamorization of mental health and addiction issues are the rose-tinted glasses through which an artist will try to live up to the hype created for them, and people can too easily pass it off as part and parcel of the image.

By following the turbulent lives of 'tortured artists' on the front page of tabloids, people feel both a connection and means of expressive freedom they would not otherwise have felt in seemingly average lifestyles. In this manner, they forget that artists are real people too. And in this manner also, it was never unusual to see Amy in nothing more than a bra and shorts, tripping over herself in Camden with a trail of unsympathetic paparazzi behind her, the same people who after years of plastering her a train-wreck now hold her to be an icon.

So was it worth it? Is it ever worth it? 'You show me an addict and I'll show you a genius at something,' James Rhodes tells us in The Telegraph. That 'it is invariably more difficult to create something immortal if there is no suffering.' He then goes on to list a number of artists, Winehouse included, who would not have given us such masterpieces 'if they'd had weekly shrink sessions and anti-depressants.'

This is an ill-conceived view. Most, if not all of the time, addiction and depression do not spur creativity. There is a certified link, yes, but this link is damaged, not enhanced the deeper an artist falls into lunacy. Poster child of tortured artists, Van Gogh, couldn't paint a single stroke when he was suffering badly from illness. 'I haven't felt the excitement of listening to as well as creating music along with reading and writing for too many years now,' Kurt Cobain so famously wrote in his suicide note in 1994.

The truth of the matter is, Amy Winehouse's legitimate significance in the UK music scene had for a good while been missing. We weren't given endless albums at the height of her demur. Instead of being cheered; she was unabashedly booed off the stage at Belgrade last month. And despite what implication suggests, the right help, be it medication or rehab does not lull the creative into zombie mode. In fact, research shows just the opposite. As Russell Brand noted in The Guardian, we need to adapt the way we view these conditions, 'not as a crime or a romantic affectation but as a disease that will kill.'

Amy Winehouse was without doubt, a great and unique talent. Her voice and insight into the pains of love and loss will have struck a chord with many. It's a sad shame that her death appears to those same people as an inevitable outcome of her art and genius. At the heart of the madness was an ever deteriorating and disorientated girl, a loved one now lost to not only the music business, but to grieving friends and family.

It's time we stopped romanticizing mental illness and addiction, stopped putting the heavily addicted on our cool-lists and their ordeal as our red-topped headlines. Maybe then, the 'musical deathwatch' would cease to exist, and Amy Winehouse and those like her would have been more inclined to get the help they so impertinently needed.